ELCA elects a gay bishop

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (not to be confused with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, or other more conservative Lutheran bodies) has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, who will lead ELCA congregations in the Los Angeles area.   The ELCA only approved gay pastors two years ago, which was when Rev. Erwin, a theology professor at Cal Lutheran, was ordained.  Is it usual in the ELCA to rise in the ranks from newly-ordained pastor to bishop in only two years?  (The ELCA has adopted an episcopal polity and claims apostolic succession through the Swedish church.)

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Ethiopian Lutherans sever fellowship with ELCA

It’s not just Missouri Synod Lutherans!  Russell Saltzman reports:

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Place of Jesus) has severed all ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), according to an ELCA press release.

The Mekane Yesus action came during their general convocation meeting in Addis Ababa January 27-February 2, ratifying a July 2012 initiative of the church council. While they were at it the Mekane Yesus included the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and, for good measure, other “churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage.” The decision specifically bans Eucharistic hospitality. Mekane Yesus pastors may not receive Holy Communion from ELCA pastors, nor are they permitted to commune them. . . . [Read more...]

Three Lutheran churches on the life issue

Lutheran ethicist Robert Benne attended the March for Life, which occasioned some interesting reflections on how different Lutheran church bodies approach the abortion controversy.

The Missouri Synod had gathered several hundred with whom we marched. Lutherans for Life—an umbrella organization—provided an additional banner under which another couple hundred marched. However, a stunning realization came to me: I saw not one mainline Protestant banner or organized group. Of course, I could have missed them amid the immensity of the march, but it is safe to say they were not there in any significant mass. That was true for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which more and more resembles mainline liberal Protestantism. [Read more...]

The beam in our Missouri Synod eyes

Friends, you should read the comments on Chaplain Mike’s sacrament post at Internet monk, linked above.  It’s touching how some of his evangelical readers are responding to what he is saying.

I have to say, though, that I’m kind of ashamed that some of these potential Lutherans have come to THIS blog, which Chaplain Mike links to, and are marveling about how all we Missouri Synod Lutherans can say about his joy in discovering Lutheran theology  is to castigate him for joining the ELCA!  There are comments to the effect that, I’m staying away from those LCMS types, but I might investigate the ELCA.   Thus our polemics against the ELCA turn people away from us and make the ELCA more attractive!  That’s not very effective argumentation, to make people agree more with your opponent than with you!

But there is something else that we Missouri Synod Lutherans need to face up to.  Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism.  It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for.  You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling.  So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation.   Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals?  You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!

I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals.  (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.)  So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?

What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy?  Half?  Less than half?  In some areas of the country, far less than that?   I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel.  Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.

I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.   But do they really hold them in actuality?  Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m as supportive of the LCMS and as critical of liberal theology as anyone can be.  But to say that Chaplain Mike, in joining the ELCA, is just joining mainline liberal Protestantism is manifestly not true.  What he is finding in his congregation that he is responding to so gladly is not leftwing politics or feminism or gay marriages.  Rather, as he says, he is finding the centrality of Christ, Law & Gospel, vocation, worship, the sacraments, and the other things he is discussing in his three posts.

Now the problem with the ELCA is that many of their congregations do not concentrate on those Lutheran teachings and that our hypothetical seeker-after-Lutheranism may well not find them there either.  I would go so far as to say that he or she would be more likely to find them in the LCMS, for all of our problems, or in WELS or ELS or another conservative synod.  The problem in American Lutheranism has always been the temptation to conform to some variety of American Protestantism–whether mainline liberal (the ELCA’s temptation) or generic evangelicalism (the LCMS’s temptation)–rather than just being Lutheran.   Chaplain Mike will doubtless find that out.  In the meantime, we Lutherans need to welcome him into our tradition.  We might also think how we might welcome more like him, rather than scaring them away.

 

 

Schism in Lutheran charities

The Associated Press has a good and remarkably objective story on how the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) is stopping its co-operation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in military chaplaincy and charity work.  From journalist Rachel Zoll:

The latest casualty of the long-running Protestant conflicts over the Bible and homosexuality is a massive network of social service agencies that work in areas ranging from adoption to disaster relief.

The theologically conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod announced this week that direct work with its larger and more liberal counterpart, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has become “difficult if not impossible,” because of doctrinal differences, including the 2009 decision by liberal Lutherans to lift barriers for ordaining gays and lesbians.

Neither denomination would discuss the potential financial impact Wednesday. Many Lutheran-affiliated agencies receive substantial state and federal money through contracts and grants that would not be directly affected by any split. However, similar to Catholic Charities, Lutheran agencies are some of the biggest service providers in their communities and have been struggling to meet increased demand for help during the recession.

Just one of the joint Lutheran agencies, Lutheran Services in America, said on its website that it encompasses more than 300 health and human services organizations with a combined annual budget of more than $16 billion.

“We recognize that this is a difficult issue. It’s complicated,” said the Rev. Herb Mueller, first vice president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, based in St. Louis. “We’re trying to take a nuanced and caring approach to all of these situations that’s also faithful to what the Bible teaches on these issues.”

The Rev. Donald McCoid, an ecumenical officer for the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said, “we are deeply concerned about the ministries of care that may be challenged by the recent action of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.”

The Lutherans are among several church groups facing fallout over recent steps toward accepting same-sex relationships. The Episcopal Church caused an uproar among fellow Anglicans worldwide in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Just this month, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) formally lifted the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, striking down an obstacle to gay and lesbian ordination.

The situation for Lutherans differed in that decades of splits and mergers had already largely divided the religious community along theological lines. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with about 4.5 million members, was formed from church bodies with Danish, Finnish, German and Swedish backgrounds. The merger that led to its latest incarnation occurred in 1988.

Yet, even with separate denominations, Lutherans continued to work together in a wide range of joint ministries such as Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran World Relief. Among the cooperative agencies are organizations that offer health care to senior citizens, support for the disabled, job training, tutoring and housing, along with finding homes for foster children. Mueller said in an interview that 81 of the 120 recognized service organizations of the Missouri Synod cooperate in some way with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Twenty-two of the agencies offer adoption services or foster care, he said.

The 2.3 million-member Missouri Synod has been studying the issue for more than a year through its Committee on Theology and Church Relations. This week, the panel issued a 15-page document of guidelines for churches, congregants and ministries on how they should decide whether to continue direct joint work with the Chicago-based Lutherans.

The only immediate announced break was for the Missouri Synod to stop its practice of training military chaplains with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The president of the Missouri Synod, the Rev. Matthew Harrison, said in a statement that the decision, effective next year, was based on the ELCA decision on gay ordination, and on the military’s plan to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy. The two denominations had trained military chaplains together for decades, but

However, the guidelines for evaluating the joint relationships made it clear that cooperative work in many of the agencies is likely to end.

via Gay split causes upheaval for Lutheran charities – Faith and Values – TheState.com.

Why can’t the two denominations work together to deliver relief for earthquake victims and the like, just because they differ about homosexuality?  Explain.

Lutheranism as the emergent church?

Set aside the pastor being a woman.  Set aside the tattoos.   Set aside the social justice stuff.  Well, you’ll have to set aside quite a bit.  But what’s striking here is that the latest star of the “emergent church” (congregations trying to reach trendy postmodernists by being trendy and postmodernist) employs traditional Lutheran theology and liturgy:

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber is a dichotomy wrapped in a paradox covered in tattoos.

Creation, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost — practically the entire liturgical year — unfurl in technicolor ink from her shoulder to her wrist.

That’s just her left arm. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus rising from the dead are on the long right arm of this 6-foot-1 Christian billboard.

The 42-year-old came to Jesus later in life but then pursued a vocation in Christ full throttle. In a state where Focus on the Family and other strands of evangelical Christianity have long grabbed most headlines, a progressive Lutheran is now stealing the marquee.

On the strength of her preaching, Bolz-Weber received the invitation to sermonize Sunday at Easter sunrise services for roughly 10,000 people at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

In the few years since ordination in late 2008, she has become famous within her denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and achieved international acclaim.

She has a wide audience for her sermons and blogs, touted by the likes of progressive Christianity torch-bearer Jim Wallis. Her blog is under the heading “Sarcastic Lutheran: The cranky spirituality of a postmodern Gal. Emerging church ala Luther.” . . .

Bolz-Weber sums up her own small mission church as “a group of folks figuring out how to be liturgical, Christo-centric, social-justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient-future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination.”

Bolz-Weber makes it seem reasonable and fun to be simultaneously traditional and innovative, ancient and postmodern, devout and irreverent, brash and humble, flip and profound, and so on. . . .

While she shatters all stereotypes of Lutheran pastors, [ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark] Hanson said, she is “absolutely grounded in the heart of Lutheran theology.”

Bolz-Weber herself bristles at the notion she is a “rogue Lutheran” or that her church is niche marketing.

“I’ve never asked myself what do young adults want on church,” she said. “I’ve never tried to fill a market niche by producing a particular religious product.”

She just wanted to start a church her friends didn’t have “to commute to spiritually and culturally” from the context of their normal lives. . . .

She tried out the Unitarian Universalist Church, where they have “a high opinion of humans” that didn’t fit with her experience. People are flawed, she said.”It’s dark in there,” she said tapping her chest over her heart. “We’re all simultaneously sinners and saints. We live in response to God’s grace. Nobody’s climbing the spiritual ladder.”

She chose the Lutheran denomination, she said, “because I met this really cute guy playing volleyball.”

He’s now her husband. Matthew Weber is also a Lutheran pastor, but of a more mainline stripe. Married in 1996, the couple have two children, 10 and 12.

Bolz-Weber also fell in love with the Lutheran liturgy, she said. “The Lutheran Church is the only place that gave me language true to what I’d experienced, true to my life,” she said. “I want to give people what I got out of that.”

James Wall, a self-described coat-and-tie Episcopalian who co-founded “The Wilderness,” an emerging church within the church at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, serves as contemplative-in-residence at House for All Sinners and Saints.

“She works within a mainstream denomination, yet her congregation is nearly all young people,” Wall said. “The liturgy is traditional and sacramental, with ancient chants and traditional hymns. This is not some rock-band-led, happy-clappy church in the suburbs. And yet young, radical Christians come every Sunday.”

via Pastor turns heads by blending tradition and irreverence – The Denver Post”.

I have been critical of the emergent church movement, with its doctrinal revisionism, while saluting some of its  criticisms of American Christianity.   Emergent Christians, to their credit, want to bring back “mystery” into their beliefs and ritual into their worship, but they by-and-large reject Christian orthodoxy, which reveals the true mysteries of the faith, and they ignore the historical liturgy in favor of made-up rituals, even though the former is so much better by any standard.  They seem to be groping for the sacramental, but they lack the theology and the doctrines for a genuine sacramental spirituality.  I have often thought that Lutheranism is the true emergent church, addressing its valid concerns without falling into its mistakes.  So maybe the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is onto something.  But are postmodernists so shallow that they need so much coolness and progressive trappings  in a pastor?  Why wouldn’t a regular congregation with traditional theology, liturgy, and sacraments do just as well?

HT: David Halbrook


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